By StarFoxA 35 Comments
I attempted to do a review of one Xbox Live indie game every day for a few weeks back in October and September, and that kind of fell flat on its face for a variety of reasons. However, I felt it would be appropriate, since everyone else is doing their "game of the year" lists to present my favorite Xbox indies of 2010. I can't claim to have played every indie game in 2010, but I've played a fair amount of them--around 100 in total, including games from 2009 and a couple releases from 2011 (already).
Many of these games can be purchased for less than the price of an average soda, so if you're feeling desperate for some entertainment, I highly suggest checking out at least one of the titles in this blog.
Without further ado, here are my favorite Xbox indies of 2010.
Best Usage of Zombies, Avatars, and/or Massages
I have to be honest, I didn't play very many games with zombies, avatars, or massages this year. Typically I'm pretty selective about the games I purchase, so I do some research before spending those hard-earned Microsoft points. Those that I did play were few and far between, and actually weren't that bad. However, the best of the bunch was, without a doubt, The Tempura of the Dead. What makes this game stand out is its head-juggling mechanic. After you slaughter a zombie, its head comes off and you can hit it multiple times in the air for more points and TEMPURA FEAVER (as it is referred to in the first version of the game, but it has since been corrected, out of fairness).
- Breath of Death VII: The Beginning because of its unique futuristic setting involving the undead.
- Aphelion Episode 2: Wings of Omega because it had zombies at some point.
- Football Games Room for being the only Xbox Live indie game I played that had avatars in it.
Most Authentic Retro Style
While "faux-retro" is another indie game trope, I didn't want to group it with zombies, avatars, and/or massages, as I have a huge soft-spot for this kind of game. If it has 8-bit or 16-bit graphics, I'll take it. There were a lot of games this year that executed this style very well, including the aforementioned Tempura of the Dead, but I feel that Protect Me Knight was the retro king this year. This was for a few reasons, not limited to its addictive, tower defense style gameplay. Not only does the game play well, but it features music from Yuzo Koshiro (of Streets of Rage and ActRaiser fame), and is developed by the team at Ancient (known for Beyond Oasis). There were many, many, many fantastic retro styled indie games this year, but I felt that Protect Me Knight was the embodiment of 8-bit.
- Hypership Out of Control for taking a simplistic premise and creating an enjoyable game; very much in the spirit of retro games.
- The Tempura of the Dead because the game is just too awesome to NOT mention.
- Curse of the Crescent Isle because of its homage to the gameplay styles of Super Mario Bros. 2 and DuckTales.
The "Could Have Been A Flash Game" Award
While this could be considered a dubious honor, I would argue otherwise. These games managed to lure the $1.00 out of me, despite having the presentation of a Flash game. I'm not even saying to not buy these games (they are worth the price of a soda), it's just... they really could have used some more content. The winner for this category wins... because it is a Flash game. Aah Little Atlantis was originally a Flash game before being converted to the Xbox 360 (and is still available for free on Aah Games' website). I would still recommend picking up Aah Little Atlantis, because it is fairly expanded from its Flash release, but keep in mind the origin of this game; a contest to create a game in 48 hours, from scratch.
- PLATFORMANCE: Castle Pain for consisting of a single (albeit well-designed) level. Here's hoping the sequel has more content!
- Inertia! because it looks like a Flash game, and (for the most part) plays like a Flash game. It gets a little leeway for being a university project.
- Urban Space Squirrels because it looks like it was designed in Flash, even though it's much longer than your average Flash game.
Most Professional Game
These games, in another world, could have been Xbox Live Arcade games, with minimal additions. They are of the highest quality, in terms of presentation, graphical quality, length, and content. There are only a few games that I would say reached this prestigious point, and of these Lumi is the most professional. I wouldn't say that this is the best game of the bunch (despite being a fantastic game), but its spot as a finalist in 2009's Dream.Build.Play contest certainly helps. Lumi has an incredible, hand-drawn graphical style, an interesting concept, and a decent length (especially considering the asking price of 400 Microsoft points). This game, along with the Honorable Mentions, are highly recommended.
- Protect Me Knight, not only because it was created by a published developer, but also because of its excellent retro style.
- radiangames Inferno due to its great genre blending gameplay, which is a unique combination of Gauntlet and the Legend of Zelda.
- The Tempura of the Dead because of its well-designed retro gameplay and graphical style. A few points are docked, however, for its Engrish translation.
- Chu's Dynasty because of its stunning hand-drawn graphics, that I would say rival Lumi's style. However, the game is somewhat lacking in playable characters (for a fighting game, four is somewhat lacking).
Game That Most Often Sent Me Into an Explosive, Uncontrollable Fit of Rage
A somewhat dubious honor, these games are not necessarily bad, per se, but often angered me to a high degree. This honor goes to Panic Attack - Devil's Favorite, a game akin to Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV (in terms of ridiculous gameplay). There are a few things that make Panic Attack hard. Naturally, the game has some fairly good level design, ranging from moderately difficult to stab-me-in-the-eye-with-a-fork difficult. The thing, however, that makes Panic Attack so rage-inducingly hard is the addition of time limits. If you are one fraction of a second past the time limit, you will not unlock the next level. I had so many attempts where I would nearly complete the level within the time, only to realize I was one second off... triggering a rage quit.
- The Deep Cave because of its loose hit boxes and increasingly insane levels.
- Score Rush, due to its epileptic colors and bullet hell difficulty.
- Commander - World 1 because I kept dying, and I suck at it.
Best Box Art and Title
This award goes to the game that best utilizes the box art and title to completely sell me on the game before seeing any other information about it. And this award goes to Explosionade, mostly because of its slogan--"When life gives you explosions, make EXPLOSIONADE!" Now, I wasn't as big of fan of the game as other people were (at best, this game is a competent action platformer), but its charm when it comes to box art and title are undeniable. This was a tough pick, with lots of great games in the running, but I'm going to have to give it to Explosionade.
- Breath of Death VII: The Beginning because of its ability to parody numerous classic role-playing games in a single line.
- Your Doodles Are Bugged! for its eye-catching title that really is evocative of the game.
- Hypership Out of Control because it manages to describe the entire game in four words.
Best Looking Game
This award was pretty tough to decide on, because there were actually a lot of fantastic looking games that came out this year. I decided to award this one to two games, one because of technical and one because of artistic. That's why both Aphelion Episode Two: Wings of Omega and Chu's Dynasty win this award. Aphelion 2 is far improved over its predecessor, with better animations, textures, and sharper colors. There are some spots where I felt the graphics could have used some work, but that doesn't change the fact that Aphelion 2 is a very good-looking game, especially for the $3.00 asking price.
Chu's Dynasty, on the other hand, is (artistically speaking) the best-looking game of the year. The jerkiness of some animations is what caused me to decide to put it here in conjunction with Aphelion 2, but that doesn't change the fact that Chu's Dynasty looks absolutely stunning. If only the fluidity of the animations could have been fixed, then this game would be much higher in my ranking.
- radiangames Inferno because of its minimalistic slash neon style that really works for the game.
- Vorpal for its fascinating black/white/red color scheme and amazing character designs.
- Soulcaster II for hearkening back to the 16-bit days, and for a vastly improved character design over the first game.
- Astroman because of its simplistic, yet charming style that gives the game a hand-drawn look.
This was probably the toughest category for me to come to a conclusion on, out of all of the categories. Seriously, there were so many great shooters that came out this year on the Xbox Live indie marketplace. After much thought, I decided to give this one to Score Rush, as the game is an absolute blast (especially for shoot-em-up fans, such as myself). Score Rush is even more fun in multiplayer, where you can get obscene scores, reaching into the hundreds of millions. There is an incredible balance of chaos and order, where even in the most hectic, bullet filled screen, you can see a path throughout the hell... it really is an experience. And for an asking price of $1.00, Score Rush is a steal.
- Decimation X3 for improving on its predecessor in so many ways, and for its fresh take on the Space Invaders style of shmups.
- Vorpal because of its unique gameplay, which is a combination of versus fighting and shooting, and for its great style.
- REVOLVER360 for the ability to literally rotate the world, which changes the genre exponentially.
- Shoot 1UP because of the fantastic hand-drawn graphics, unique formation gameplay, and its value for only $1.00.
- Break Limit for the continued support of the developer, the hard-as-nails difficulty levels, and because of its online leaderboard support.
- Hypership Out of Control for the increasing speed gimmick, which works very well in Hypership, especially due to its retro style.
- radiangames JoyJoy because of its pastel style graphics in a world where all shooters rely on neon.
- radiangames Crossfire for the ability to switch the side of the screen you are shooting from, putting a new spin on the Space Invaders gameplay.
- Star Crisis because even though it is criminally short, the music and retro style more than make up for its lacking length.
This one was almost as hard to choose as the Best Shooter category, but thankfully I didn't play as many fantastic platformers this year. My choice for best Xbox indie platformer this year is Ophidian Wars: Opac's Journey, a Metroidvania-esque platformer with no combat. The game is entirely puzzle based, and that makes it both intriguing and surprisingly fun to play. At about an hour and a half to two hours long, Ophidian Wars is severely lacking a save function, but that doesn't stop it from being a fantastic example of an action platformer done right.
- The Deep Cave because of its addictive qualities, great music, and simplistic retro-styled graphics.
- Inertia! for its gameplay gimmick, which works incredibly well in Inertia, and also for the final level (which alone makes the game worth 80 Microsoft points).
- Figment for its unique setting and fascinating art design.
- Treasure Treasure: Fortress Forage Extra Edition because, despite its short length, the game is a blast in cooperative play.
- Apple Jack because despite its presentation, the game is surprising in both depth and entertainment.
- Tobe's Vertical Adventure because even though it looks and plays great, I have barely started the game.
- Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess because even though the game is a lot of fun, it's really, really short.
Best Puzzle Game
It's unfortunate that I didn't play very many puzzle games this year, as there were actually a fair amount of good ones that came out on the marketplace (things like DiceXY and Rotor'scope that I'd still love to check out at some point). However, out of the three or so puzzle games that I played this year, Aah Little Atlantis was actually the best one. Yes, I know, this game was a free Flash game before being converted to an Xbox indie title, but the additions to the game make it worth the $1.00. The interface is better, graphics are better, music is better, more levels, etc. The concept of sinking parts of an island to manipulate Atlanteans is an incredibly unique one, and the simplistic premise is complemented by sublime music and retro graphics. These things all make Aah Little Atlantis into the best Xbox indie puzzle game this year.
- Your Doodles Are Bugged! for its simplistic style, humor, and well-executed concept.
- Ubergridder for an interesting concept, even if the execution is a little lacking.
Best Role-Playing Game
It's surprising how many fantastic role-playing games have come out of the Xbox Live indie marketplace. This year alone there were around ten that I would say are worth purchasing, and offer an incredible amount of content considering the price. However, out of all of the releases this year, Soulcaster and Soulcaster II stood out the most to me (I'm choosing to group sequels together). These games present a great, genre-blending concept of tower defense and role-playing. You play as the Soulcaster, a wizard who is able to summon three different souls, each of which possesses a different ability. As this wizard, you must traverse several worlds, strategically placing the souls in order to defeat the monsters that spawn on each map. The role-playing aspect of the game is upgrading these souls, which can be done by purchasing new weapons (strength) and armor (health, speed, or defense) for each respective soul. Each game is 240 Microsoft points, the equivalent of $3.00, and each is worth it for the shopkeeper's theme alone.
- Breath of Death VII: The Beginning and Cthulhu Saves the World because Breath of Death VII is amazing, and because I haven't had a chance to play Cthulhu yet.
- Aphelion Episode 1: Graves of Earth and Aphelion Episode 2: Wings of Omega because, despite their flaws, they are well-designed role-playing games with an intriguing futuristic story.
- Epic Dungeon for its rogue-like gameplay, with some very unique differences.
Best Sports Game
Why is this even a category? I don't really care about sports games, to be honest, but somehow I played three sports games this year. Of those three, OSR Unhinged was, by far, the best. The game has some absolutely insane level design, which gives the Trials-esque gameplay a really cool spin. Things like antigravity are what makes OSR Unhinged unique. Despite its few flaws, (like the occasional extremely difficult stage) OSR Unhinged is a steal at $1.00, especially considering how much gameplay is offered (there's something around 50 or 60 unique stages, not to mention the bonus modes).
- Old School Racer, for being the predecessor of OSR Unhinged, and a good enough game in its own right to warrant a purchase.
- Football Games Room, for presenting a nice twist on a long-running sport.
Most Innovative Game
These are games that, while maybe not entirely not, presented a great twist on a genre, creating something entirely new. I'm going to give this one to my favorite of the radiangames, which is Inferno. This game may seem like your typical shooter at first glance, but upon further inspection you will find a surprisingly deep experience. You guide a small ship through each level in this Gauntlet slash Legend of Zelda style game, upgrading this ship in terms of power, spread shot, fire rate, health, shields, and more. The inclusion of multiplayer, bosses, secret levels, new game plus, and more make Inferno possibly one of the best deals on the entire marketplace.
- radiangames Fluid because it shows that simplistic gameplay can make for a surprisingly fun and challenging experience.
- REVOLVER360 for turning the entire shoot-em-up genre on its head, and making me wonder, "Why hasn't anyone else done this before?"
- Soulcaster because it manages to seamlessly blend tower defense and role-playing in a completely engaging and unique manner.
The 2009 Indie Game That's Still Relevant Today
Kind of stealing from Giant Bomb's own "2010's 2009 game of the year" award, this one goes to Miner Dig Deep, because Paul Barnett put it on his list of "best 2010 games" despite the fact that it came out last year. All kidding aside, Miner Dig Deep is still a blast to play, and (pun intended) is a surprisingly deep experience for the asking price of 80 Microsoft points. Paul Barnett was right in his description of the game, and the sense of discovery while playing this game is incredible. I keep coming back to this one, and likely will from time to time in 2011 as well.
- I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1 because of the fact that it still manages to sell thousands of copies each month.
- Aesop's Garden for simultaneously being the most frustrating and most interesting Xbox indie that I have played. This is seriously the hardest puzzle game I have ever played.
- Arkedo Series - 03 PIXEL! because this is my favorite indie game of all time. See my review for why.
- Streets of Fury because this game is both hilarious and a lot of fun to play.
Indie Games That I'm Most Looking Forward to in 2011
This was a really tough one for me to decide because (frankly), there is a lot to look forward to this year. Some of these games may, in fact, become Xbox Live Arcade titles, and some may be delayed until 2012, but that doesn't change the fact that I am completely pumped for these games. Out of these, the one I'm most looking forward to is Owlboy, because not only does it look stunning, but the retro tunes playing in the background make me giddy. This game looks to be pretty unique, and the fact that it has already won awards at indie shows has me completely sold.
- They Bleed Pixels because its style is fantastic and the title is eye-catching.
- Solar 2 because it's the sequel to one of my favorite indie games of all time.
- Arkedo Series - 04 SLASH! because Arkedo has described as "Geometry Wars meets the Legend of Zelda."
- Mind Over Metal because the game looks great, and reminds me a lot of Metal Slug.
- radiangames Inferno 2 because it's the sequel to radiangames Inferno, one of my favorite indie games.
- Duality ZF because Xona Games never fails to deliver when it comes to fast-paced retro shmups.
- Aban Hawkins and the 1000 Spikes because it comes from 8bit Fanatics, the developer of The Tempura of the Dead.
The Indie Game That Deserved an Award, but Didn't Receive One (Discounting This Award)
Let's face it; there were a ton of great Xbox indie games that came out this year. I didn't get a chance to play all of them, and even out of all of them that I played, I haven't mentioned all of them here. Out of all of the ones I haven't yet mentioned, however, radiangames Fireball is the one most deserving of this award. I am unabashedly a Geometry Wars fanboy, so the fact that this game is basically an improved version of the Pacifism mode in Geometry Wars 2 already makes it completely awesome to me. To those of you who aren't completely sold on this game, I still suggest checking it out, if only to support radiangames (in hopes that the developer can create amazing games full time).
- radiangames Crossfire 2 for improving on its predecessor in every way.
- Decimation X because even though Decimation X3 is better than it in every way, it's still a good game.
- Retrofit: Overload because even though it doesn't really differentiate much from Galaga, it's still a lot of fun to play.
- Gravitron360 for having cool-looking neon graphics, even if I don't particularly like the style of gameplay akin to Lunar Lander.
The Most Promising Indie Developer of 2010
These developers, personally, I have very high hopes for, as the quality of the games they've been putting out surpasses 90% of everything on the indie marketplace. With a little luck and a lot of hard work, these guys will probably be releasing games on the Xbox Live Arcade within the next few years. Out of every developer, I'd have to say radiangames is on the right track. These games are developed by a single man, Luke Schneider, who is an industry veteran (having worked at Volition for several years), who decided to go independent with the goal of making a living on these games. With six incredible games already released, Luke is well on his way to becoming a published developer in the near future.
- Zeboyd Games for creating funny and fun-to-play retro RPGs.
- 8bit Fanatics for creating unabashedly retro games that are of exceptional quality.
- MagicalTimeBean for creating the Soulcaster franchise, which consists of two of my favorite games on the marketplace.
- Eyehook Games, both for their "eye-catching" name, and their unique rogue-like release, Epic Dungeon.
- Xona Games, for keeping retro shoot-em-ups alive with three fantastic releases this year.
The Worst Indie Game (That I Played) of 2010
All right, enough positive things about the Xbox Live indie marketplace. Everyone knows that it's full of crap, and here are a few games to prove it. The absolute worst game that I played this year was Gravi Dot, a miserable excuse for a game. The goal in Gravi Dot is to collect a certain amount of colored dots in each "stage," and this is done by placing your character in a spot. These colored dots will hit you, creating offshoots of the initial placement. This makes the game almost entirely RANDOM CHANCE. Will you manage to get all of the colored dots? Who knows!? Just place your character down and hope for the best! Out of fairness, there are "Gravis" which slightly alter the direction that the colored dots go, but this does not alter the gameplay enough to justify purchasing the "game."
- Valet Parking Inc. for proving that a crappy job doesn't make for a good game.
- Zombie Accountant, because the trial offers everything that the full game does.
Most Mediocre Game of the Year
These games aren't really bad... they're just... eehhh. Out of all the games I played, A Shooter was literally the most mediocre one I played. This game is seriously a five out of ten. Sure, it's a competent game, and a decently fun one. It's just... everything it aspires to be. The name "A Shooter" doesn't really inspire images of grandeur, so you know exactly what to expect. Shocking, yes, that this game is a shooter, a side-scrolling one in fact. There is literally nothing special about this game. It's not bad, but it's not good either. It's just there.
- Aah Impossible Rescue because it starts out strong, with a unique concept, but ends up dipping down in quality due to insane difficulty.
- Didgery because it's an okay card game with some cool concepts, but costs way too much considering the content.
- U Want Cookie? because even though it's a pretty good game, the piss-poor presentation makes it a really unappealing game.
Xbox Live Indie Game of the Year
And now... for the final award--Xbox Live Indie Game of the YEAAAAR! This year, there have been so many incredible Xbox Live indie games, that I'm surprised I found it so easy to pick my favorite--The Tempura of the Dead. It just goes without saying that this game is great. Everything about it just screams quality, from the chiptune soundtrack, the flicker of the 8-bit sprites, the gameplay twists that I would have found completely plausible in a real NES game, and even the Engrish. I just love everything about this game, there's not much more to say. If you're a fan of action games, samurais, zombies, video games, cool stuff, and/or black presidents, do yourself a favor and check out The Tempura of the Dead.
- Protect Me Knight for being an incredibly professional and addictive take on tower defense, and because of Yuzo Koshiro's involvement.
- radiangames Inferno because of its genre blending and multiplayer, which give it both depth and great quality.
- Soulcaster II because it both improves on its predecessor and stays strong in the unique genre combining gameplay.